Collin Quiring delivers a load of corn to Tillotson’s Aurora South elevator

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Collin Quiring, a 26-year-old reader of this blog who farms with his brother in Henderson, Nebr., made contact and offered to send some photos when he took a load of grain to the Aurora South elevator, which was built by Tillotson Construction Company in 1959.

Collin had first commented on one of Kristen’s posts.

A view of Tillotson Construction Company's Aurora South elevator, as seen Nov. 2, 2014, by Collin Quiring.

A portrait of Tillotson Construction Company’s Aurora South elevator, as seen Nov. 2, 2014, by Collin Quiring.

“It’s funny that you drove through Hampton,” he wrote. 

“I’ve been following this blog for a while now and started looking at all the manhole covers on elevators that I haul to, and sure enough there were a lot of Chalmers-Borton, Tillotson, and Mayer-Osborn elevators around.

Hampton has the manhole covers on the outside of the silos and they’re 10 feet or so off the ground, so I’ve been wondering who made it for a while now!

It looks like you just saw the one downtown elevator in Aurora though?

The other elevator is called Aurora South and is on the southwest edge of town. It used to be a Cargill elevator, but Aurora Coop purchased it.

I’m pretty sure that’s a Tillotson elevator, too.”

So Collin did some more reconnoitering and took pictures on his next run.

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Collin’s view from the scale house.

“We’ve been alternating where we were taking corn, and I was planning to get back there for a few more pics.

But harvest will be over in an hour.

So I won’t be getting back there anytime soon.

Here’s what I did get while trying not to hold up the line.

End of this week or beginning of next I will be hauling to Hampton and will send you some from over there.”

Two days later, he made the run to Hampton but found it was not a Tillotson elevator; instead, it was built in 1959 by Grain Storage Construction Company, of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

A last farewell to a wooden elevator at Ryegate, Montana

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Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The search for our grandfathers’ elevators has led us to many small towns and many grain operations. Among our discoveries have been ancient wooden elevators, now quaint relics among their larger concrete cousins. In some towns, wooden elevators still have jobs to do, but their time is short.

Charles H. Tillotson built wooden elevators long before his children took up the slip-formed concrete building technique, and at one time, every Midwestern town with a rail line had a row of them serving the local farmers. Now it is increasingly rare to find a town with more than one wooden elevator in service, or for that matter, still standing.

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The Ryegate, Mont., elevator is flanked by its replacement fertilizer plant.

In the last year or two, in several towns, locals have told me that their wooden elevators were no longer used and would shortly be destroyed. I made an extra effort to document those elevators. This week, I almost missed one. In Ryegate, Mont., a new fertilizer plant was put into operation last year, and the elevator that had served the purpose was now slated for destruction.

When I stopped to photograph the pair of wooden elevators at Ryegate, a town on U.S. 12 in east-central Montana, I went into the local cafe for a burger. A fellow at the bar introduced himself as Ken. He wondered where my hometown was, and the purpose of my visit. When I told him I was a bit of an elevator tourist, he told me about the Ryegate elevators. DSC_5156

Ken worked at the Ryegate facility. He said that over the years, he had been employed as a grain hauler and in almost every other aspect of elevator work.

The smaller elevator was built in 1917. Ken said grain dropped 70 feet from the top of the grain spout to a truck below while loading. The elevator had been in use as recently as two years ago, then the new fertilizer plant was built nearby to replace it.

The larger elevator, built in 1914, was still used for storage—it had fresh siding and looked neat and clean on an immaculate lot. But the smaller elevator, equally handsome, would be razed next week. He hoped I would get out and take more pictures before it was gone.

Our discussion ranged from elevators to the military. Ken served in the U.S. Army, had great admiration for the old C-130 aircraft, and expounded with enthusiasm about the M-1 Abrams tank and the Tow missile. He got a kick out of talking with another veteran who shared his interest. He also spoke with reverence about serving under President Ronald Reagan.

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The interior of the shed addition.

Our conversation was interrupted as a young lady burst into the cafe, exclaiming,

“I just got a deer!”

As two men moved to follow her out the door to see her trophy, she said,

“Come see. I got my mulie.”

Her announcement passed without any comment at the bar. Apparently, during deer season, such declarations are expected.

Before I departed to take a closer look at the doomed elevator, Ken introduced himself more formally as Sgt. Ken Davis, and shook my hand. It was an honor to meet this veteran who served back when we had a 600-ship Navy (in the good old days, about three wars ago).

As I took another circuit around the old elevator to shoot a few last pictures, the sun played on the high clouds, projecting light like a halo radiating about the old structure. I thought it a fitting farewell.

In honor of Veterans Day, I salute Sgt. Davis and his life’s work. I hope he enjoys the pictures. DSC_5231

‘A Tillotson unique feature: the end of the headhouse is round’

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Commentary by Neil A. Lieb, photo from his archive

The concrete work is finished. You see those windows up there? The end of the headhouse is round because it’s hard to lay steel on a square corner. When you’re laying rebar, you have long straight sticks. Corners are hard to do. The is a Tillotson unique feature, as far as I know. It looks good because it matches the contours of the rest of the building. It was functional because the steel of the tank comes in about four pieces, and you lay them and they overlap. It was pretty exacting. You worked on your knees all night, up and down. You got the steel off the rack and you had to get down under neath and run it under all that stuff. And you did that over and over. The day that we were going to put the glass in the windows, those were steel-frame windows. There’s a little metal clip that holds the glass. You put the putty on the outside and you’re all done. The day we were doing that, the wind was blowing so hard, it was breaking the glass as we were put it in. We had to quit because of the danger of flying glass. They bought some different glass that was stronger, double-strength glass. It was just one of those things. All of a sudden, boom, this flying glass comes across the room at you.

Filled with concrete, a nail keg counterbalanced the rooftop crane

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Commentary by Neil A. Lieb, with photo from his archive

See the little cornice atop the tank? Those are forms for the cornice, the overhang. They call them eaves on a house.

The roof was poured before the headhouse went up.

That crane is a concrete-hoisting crane.

The headhouse is quite an operation because you had to hoist the concrete up to the top of the tank. And then they had a deck crane, and you had to hoist it [the concrete] to the top.

Every job I worked on, they used a nail keg that had been filled with concrete as a counterbalance weight. When you went up and down on the cable to go to work, that’s what you stood on—two guys, one foot each. That’s all there was room for.

It didn’t take that long, about fifteen or twenty seconds.

The motor and cable were down on the ground.

The operator had a shed to keep him out of the rain and sun.

 

DN Tanks builder explains differences between concrete tanks and elevators

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A water tank built by D N Tanks in Cary, Illinois

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

At first glance, a water storage tank and a grain elevator seem to have a few things in common, both in function and appearance, though they present a number of differing engineering challenges. I had the opportunity to interview Joseph Carroll, a project superintendent for D N Tanks, while flying on a commercial airline to start one of my trips. When he realized the lady sitting next to him had some engineering background, and actually was interested in concrete construction methods, he warmed to his subject with enthusiasm.

I wanted to find out how the construction of a tank answered the problems that grain elevator designs had to address–the management of stress (both vertical and lateral), the aging of the tank, interior access, wrecking out, weather considerations, and basic construction methods.

D N Tanks had been in the business since 1949, and some of their tanks (still in service) were built before 1950. During the heyday of elevator building, when our grandfathers operated at the cutting edge of concrete design, water tank builders were innovating right alongside them. The types of problems they had to solve had common elements with those of elevator designers, but their solutions were widely divergent.

After looking at our Tillotson construction specifications, Mr. Carroll commented that the design bearing load (the pressure of the water against the tank walls, expressed in pounds per square inch) of his tanks is about double the bearing load in a grain elevator.  Elevator builders relied on a continuous concrete pour and steel reinforcement to provide the required strength. Obviously, something had to be done differently to build a water tank that would sustain that kind of load.

D N Tanks, instead, builds tank panels which are poured in curved sections separately, then tensioned externally with wire winding as they are assembled on site.

Cold weather also creates a design challenge for concrete construction. I mentioned that in Canada, wood construction for grain elevators was preferred, because rigid concrete could crack under differential heating–an elevator would experience freezing temperatures on one side and solar heating on the other. Water tanks require insulation to prevent freezing, though they can handle surface freezing to the depth of about six inches. The tank walls are built thicker, and an insulating material of styrofoam blankets the tank exterior for installations in Alaska and other northern locations.

After the concrete roof is poured, wrecking-out is required (internal wooden concrete forms are removed). It is a process required for both elevator bins and tanks. Elevators retain the manholes used to remove the wrecking-out debris for later access to bin bottoms for cleaning. For water tanks, an access opening is left at the side to permit this process, but it is sealed afterwards. No access is needed from the side, because under normal use, the tank remains filled with water. Access to electrical systems for the pumps is from the top.

Concrete elevators are subject to much more wear and tear than water tanks. Internal friction is an issue with grain elevators:  filling and emptying of grain bins abrades the inner concrete surfaces, eventually causing cracking and damage after many years.  Tanks suffer from no such problems.

Fire is an ever present danger in grain elevators, and cleanliness is a constant battle. Tanks tend to be cleaner and safer, and if built correctly from the start, will long outlast the most robust grain elevator.

DSC_9898I happened upon one of these water storage facilities, built by D N Tanks, while attending my son’s football game at Cary Junior High School in northern Illinois. It appeared just as Mr. Carroll described as a typical D N Tank project: it was bordered with a two-foot wide lip, and topped with a white vent.

The tanks are built in cities and towns to comply with a requirement for an emergency water supply. The tank or tanks must hold enough water to last for three days after normal municipal service is lost. Unlike the many grain elevators that dot the Midwest, which rise to monumental heights, these tanks are designed to blend seamlessly into the community with as little visual impact as possible. The D N Tank website pictures a number of disguises, including architectural treatments, and fully underground construction.

D N Tanks also produces tanks for glycol used for aircraft deicing, water treatment tanks, and various other tank types.

Summer 1950: All finished with the main house in Alta, Iowa

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Commentary by Neil A. Lieb and photo from his archive

From a telephone interview on July 22, 2014

It’s all done. It looks like they’re putting scaffolding up for painting. The main hoist is on the left. That’s a Georgia buggy hanging on the hoist. The guy that’s standing there is going to push it as soon as it hits the deck. They might be just starting on the headhouse. I can’t figure that scaffolding out. It’s a rigid scaffolding.

Memories of cranes and pushing the Georgia buggy in Alta, Iowa

The formwork is clearly seen at the Alta elevator rises. The catwalk around the bottom was for the concrete finisher, who smoothed and patched the freshly formed surface. Photo from the Neil A. Lieb Archive.

Commentary by Neil A. Lieb, photo from his archive.

From a telephone interview on July 22, 2014

On the upper left-hand corner, there’s a crane. That crane we used to haul the steel up to the top, the rebar, the jackrods. That’s all we used it for. You didn’t tie up the other hoist, you used that one. I think it’s called a jack crane. It was an electrically operated crane. The railroad tracks are on the bottom, that’s the end of a box car in the lower right. That doorway—that’s used when you’re loading grain after the thing was all over with.

When I first started, I pushed the Georgia buggy.  It’s probably the worst job in the world because it’s very physical. They weighed 1000 pounds. At Alta, I progressed to laying steel. All the new hires always got to push the concrete because that was the hardest work. There was a big turnover when you started out because pushing Georgia buggies wasn’t very much fun.